I thought I was done writing about ISTE but Doug Peterson’s post (Stop It Already - which you really should read including the comments from others) got me thinking a bit more. As Doug pointes out at common thing to hear at ISTE is “it’s about the pedagogy and not the technology”. One is tempted to reply “Well, duh!” But of course in other settings we often do hear people call technology “the answer.”
I think there is a lot of "preaching to the choir" at ISTE and similar conferences. It's all too easy. The people at the conference generally do know that it is pedagogy first and technology second (or third). But I guess some people feel smarter hearing what they believe from people who have been "anointed" in some way. Others feel better hearing their ideas applauded even though they have to know at some level that they are reinforcing ideas rather than converting people. Maybe it is about reassurance for some.
One of the interesting things I heard someone say was "haven't attended a single session. Best ISTE ever." Now that can mean a number of things. I attended a few sessions and some were good and some were better suited to beginners. I’m sure other people had a different experience with sessions.
What I really got the most out of were a) conversations with other teachers and b) ideas for tools that will help me do things differently (and I hope better) in my classroom. I found vendors who have great technology but who really don't know how it can be used to teach better. Most of them are actively soliciting ideas both about how their products can be used and how they can be improved to help teachers. Even the vendors, well the ones I talked to, understand that pedagogy has to come first and that the technology is not a "magic bullet."
I attend ISTE to find tools that change how I teach. I’m not looking for a better projector (though I am glad if one comes my way) or a different computer (Chromebooks seemed to be all the rage but I don’t see them as useful at all for me,.) I want things that will make my class more interesting, more interactive and get students more involved in their own learning. One question I find myself asking a lot is “how do I (or anyone) know if this technology really will improve learning and the way I teach? I don’t know that we have a good answer to that question.